12. The Red Brick


Date unknown
Taken from Al Shamia, Mecca, during demolition, 2013

I am small, I admit. But I am porous as the red sands from which I am made. I absorb histories like a sponge, the everyday tales of the poorest of pilgrims who have lived within the walls that I helped build and once formed part of. When I was stuck between other bricks, you’d almost fail to notice I was there, that I had ears, that sometimes I could even see. It was like slow torture, not being able to shout out when a small boy was beaten, or wail when an old man passed away.

I have gone from being trampled on as a paving brick on Mecca’s roads, then repurposed as a part of a Meccan home, to sitting here on these pages, where I have been given a voice and my own home. Now, I am free.

This is what I have to tell you: I am one of many thousands like me, made exactly the same. Together we have created cities, utopian landscapes, bridges and roads. Floods might knock us down, and we may spread into the seas, but we are dynamic; we move and travel with the migration of the races. What I’m saying is that I am a symbol of something greater.

From San Gimignano, to Mecca, to Shinar, people have sought to build cities of bricks with towers that reach to the skies. They take my simplicity and invert it into something grand, something I am not. I am of the earth. I am simple. I speak only one language. And yet the gods once feared us, and what you mortals could build with us. I remember back to when your speech was confounded as your towers grew too tall, when the gods chose to build walls to keep you segregated, in the era of Gog and Magog. Now you make buildings, temples to all these tongues and cultures, forgetful of a time, the time of the Tower of Babel, when you behaved as we do, as one, when you spoke only one language and were like me, simple as a brick. Beware of your tall towers: the time may come again when the heavens inflict a punishment that we have all but forgotten.

This work transcends the objects. Ultimately, what I’m working with isn’t only the artefacts themselves, but the stories attached to them. For me, each tale is the manifestation of the object, and each object is a tangible materialisation of an underlying narrative. The work finds its equilibrium somewhere between the stories and chronology they’re chaptered into, the objects becoming knots or points along the timeline, woven into stories as part of the language of this artwork. Each story draws out a tale that intends to trigger imagination and memory, mixing fact with fiction, with the ultimate aim of straddling, conflating and confusing fixed notions of history to open up the unofficial histories that shape the character of place and memory.
Ahmed Mater
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